Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Ruins of Old Tanuf, and the tragedy of this water-rich mountain village

Tanuf is the place the bottled water [Tanuf, Salsabel, & Jabal Akhdar) claims to be from, so I asked MOP to take me to the wadi there. I wanted to see water, and dip my toes, so to speak but the ruins of old Tanuf soon claimed my attention.Tucked against the base of the mountain right next to the wadi, the ruins of Old Tanuf are impossible to miss. This was once an important village in the Jebal Akhdar mountain range, as the crumbling structures bear testament to. But unlike the fabled ruins of many places in Oman such as the lost city of Ubhar sunk beneath desert sands, and others abandoned to Jinn and history, Tanuf was "lost" only recently in the long time-line of the Sultanate's history, and her ghosts are of a more tragic kind.

In case you may not know, Oman, and Muscat used to be two different countries pretty much. Oman was its own government since the time of the Prophet Mohammed [S.A.W] and remained such in the Interior of Oman up until the 1950s, and Muscat was ruled by the Said family (whom Sultan Qaboos hails from). Here in this place of Oman, the remembrance of Oman's Old Islamic Caliphate is still strong, and while Sultan Qaboos is well-liked, people often claim the Interior to be less friendly in terms of politics to Muscat, than the rest of Oman. Tanuf will tell you why. Old Tanuf was destroyed with several 1000 pound bombs by the British RAF in the mid 1950s under the orders of Sultan Sai'd bin Taymur. Some of the bombs are still there, as are the graves of the many non-militant women and children who were killed while in their homes. Some of those bravely attempting to route of the planes armed only with ancient rifles managed to escape using routes of the wadi behind to the safety of Sayq Plateau where the 1958-1959 Jebal Akdhar war was fought out. Two planes, shot down by some miracle during the Tanuf tragedy, have left their wreckage amid the mountains and what remains of the houses of Beni Riyam tribe.

One British family is still known by locals to visit Oman to visit the grave of the pilot buried closeby the wreckage of his downed plane.

The scene is haunting to me. Unlike the Dhofar War in the 70s, Tanuf was no hot-bed of communist rebellion. Ibadhi Muslims of the Beni Riyam tribe that were here rejected communism, and under Sheikh Suleyman, also rejected the authority of Muscat's Sultan Taymur as legitamate in the region. While Sultan Qaboos is well-liked (afterall, he overthrew his father) there is still something that remains in this part of the Akdhar range.

I am always highly offended whenever I read that the Interior is less-hospitable, less open than other parts of Oman, as guests and hospitality have always been facets of life out this way. Christian missionaries and doctors always maintained good friendships with Imams of the Interior, and it really does sicken me to read old British (by way of the 60s) books referring to these places of Oman as "regions of warring Imbreds", which make the Akdhar and Nizwa areas seem somehow less accessible than anything they are. It was old Muscat (i.e Oman) under Sultan Taymur that was closed to the outside world, nothing from the Interior, which always welcomed travellers. It makes me think of propoganda and all its effects.

The majority of tourists out this way are British, German, Dutch, and French, and all seem to be made just as welcome as I have always been. Tanuf is beautiful. Many come to see the wadi, the water, and the old falaj running through the ruins of old Tanuf. But for me, there will always be something sad about old Tanuf, something hard to grasp at. I am happy to see the new Tanuf propsering, and that the spirit of the Beni Riyam tribe surrvives.


MoOn said...

That was pleasant and sad to read, I love that area and used to go there a lot with my parents

Anonymous said...

hi.. i live just opposite to the nizwa hospital...have been to tanuf but didnt know about the downed planes. Do you have a gps co-ordinate or something... or can you introduce me to some one who knows his way. I want to photograph them planes.

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

MoOn: It is a beautiful spot. Actually, this region has so many nice picnic spots!

Anon 08/27/11: I will ask the next friend who goes with GPS to record the courdinates for you. I don't know when this will happen though!